Posted by: Ingrid | September 7, 2015

Grays Peak

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So 14ers are a big deal in Colorado.  This was not a term I was familiar with before moving here from Michigan.  There are 53 14ers (peaks above 14,000 feet) in the state and if you are a driven climber/hiker you can collect them all!

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Once I heard that hiking 14ers was a “thing”, I promptly put it on my list of New Year’s resolutions.  Of which there were 35 (Yeah, don’t ask, it just sounded like a good idea at the time.)  Actually, I think I probably substituted it for something else, like “Spend 15 minutes of quality time alone with each child every single day.”  I am nothing if not pragmatic when it comes to making resolutions.  But the thing about these peaks at 14,000 feet is that the snow doesn’t go away until mid summer (maybe never on some of them).  So the summer passed me by and school started up and I was willing to recycle that resolution to another year.

Serendipitously, about a week ago a friend of mine suggested a hike up Grays Peak.  I looked at the homework for my online class.  I looked at all the work my husband is trying to get done.  Then I threw caution to the wind, left him to parent the three children (including the still unweaned baby) overnight, and went off to Golden for the night before heading out at 5:30 am the next morning.  By the way, I really would like to be able to afford a home in Golden.  I loved it.

I was nervous.  I hadn’t hiked since doing Half Dome, back in college.  I could pack for a race but felt completely unprepared for a hike that climbed from 11,000 feet to over 14,000 feet.  The nice thing is that Grays is a well marked, fairly easy trail that is only 7.5 miles round trip with a gain of 3,000 feet.  Turns out I didn’t need trail mix, 2 gu, and 3 Cliff Bars after all (made it through one bar during the hike).  There were a ton of people out (and their dogs!).  This is not a trail you can lose.  At some points people were so close that I had this horrible desire to grab the stranger in front of me by the hips to start a conga line.  I blame that thought on the altitude.

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Here’s what I absolutely love about hiking.  I could stop when I wanted, take pictures when I wanted, I could have hiked to the summit in five step increments if I’d wanted.  There’s no pressure and no competition and there are all sorts of people out hiking.  As long as you don’t mind looking down and realizing you would die if you fell off the edge of the cliff.

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It was crazy to look up and see all the rock and switch backs and people ahead.  At some points I wondered if there was actually a summit.

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Grays is funny because you suddenly arrive at the top and it takes you by surprise.  It was almost impossible to see anything from the top, which was sad, but once in a while I’d glimpse a little of what was shrouded in the fog and it left me breathless.  We didn’t stay long because it was so cold and windy.  I would guess with the windchill it was at least down in the 20’s.

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I did a lot of stopping to take pictures both on the way up and down but the hike only involved about 3 hours and 50 minutes of active hiking time.  Which is super short for a 14er but then… it’s also only 7.5 miles!  I ran my last two marathons faster than it took me to make the climb up and down Grays!  Originally we’d thought we would hike Grays and then take the saddle across and go to the summit of Torreys as well.

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As the day turned out, the summits were covered with mist and fog, making the steep descent to the saddle (in the picture above) from Grays summit very slippery.  The winds were gusting at 20+ miles per hour and the prospect of having to brace ourselves as we crossed the saddle (think of a half mile path with not much on the sides that joins the two peaks with the wind hitting you from the side) caused us to rethink our plans and head back the way we’d come.

I got lots and lots of pictures of Torrey, but oddly enough, trying to get a good picture of the mountain we were actually climbing proved next to impossible.  I’m sure there’s some life lesson there: The mountain you are climbing in your life will look clearer when you’re back to the trailhead, or something wise like that.

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The things I wish I’d done differently

-Worn running tights or capris – I put on my winter track pants within two miles of the start.

-Drunk water.  I sort of forgot, even though I had two bottles in my pack.  And it was only 4 hours, but I had a pretty nasty headache the rest of the day.

-Stayed at the summit longer just in case the fog burned off.

-Purchased hiking boots instead of wearing running shoes (Ouch on the downhill!)

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The Rockies are so exquisitely beautiful.  I think that I’m hooked.  I can absolutely see why people get addicted to hiking these mountains.  I’m glad I can check “hike a 14er” off my list of resolutions, but I can’t wait to hike another one!

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